Monday, June 24, 2013

New School News

So in our little pocket of the world, the new academic year has begun, along with the rainy season.

As he has "graduated" from Kindergarten and turns six in a fortnight, Little A should be moving to First Grade. Only with the dearth of schools that do proper mainstreaming and integration for special needs kids, our choices were quite limited, and we decided to keep him back a year to join a new school that recently opened.

This school is run by a bunch of people with great track records. They are starting with preschool and adding one new grade every coming academic year for the next twelve years. The program looks good, and they have an in-house support system for special needs kids. The campus is located in a converted house along Metro Manila's busiest thoroughfare.

This school follows the "international" (i.e. Western Hemisphere's) academic timetable, beginning in August and breaking up for the summer at the end of May. They are starting, however, with a "summer" programme - 5 weeks from June to July. Since Little A has already had two months of summer holidays, he was the first to enroll in the summer programme, to get him used to a new school new teachers, and a new routine.

Week one is over, and there are only 7 kids in the class. Little A, as expected, is the oldest, and the biggest. I managed to convince his home ABA teacher to apply, and she is now part of the faculty, an addition that was badly needed, as it turns out every single one of the kids enrolled in this summer programme has special needs.

I've been spending mornings with the other mums, getting used to the new schedule of being up at 6am, on the road at 730, and in school before 8. We've been talking, and most of us are ambivalent at the non-integrated setup currently underway, as all of our children have come from mainstream preschools. The other mothers, however, are expat wives. None of them will be in Manila three years from now; nor will their children.

Little A, however, is in this for the long term. I am crossing my fingers that the applicants for the August term will make up the deficit of typical children, but if they don't, then need to consider if this really will be the best academic environment for Little A.

While he is still non-verbal, this program suits him well. The IEP portion of the schoolday (2 hours, with 2 hours of preschool following) should allow him to keep up with his same-age peers academically, as last I checked he was on par with them in that department. The preschool day will give him opportunity for interaction with other kids.

The first week, my son was perfectly happy. Not a peep of complaint. I was very pleased, and asked his teacher on Friday what they had covered during the week so his home ABA teacher (his former shadow teacher at the last school) could continue the work. To my dismay, she told me that they had not done anything challenging at all that week, tackling only skills Little A has already long mastered, for the purposes of fostering independence. No writing, no reading comprehension, no addition!

No wonder Little A has been so happy, he'd just been playing! I am giving them another week, and then kindly requesting that they move up to more academic work during the IEP time. There is a parents' orientation this weekend, so I look forward to hearing what the other parents will have to say. On the whole, though, I am more pleased than displeased with this school. They are new to this setup, and I'd like to give them a chance to prove that they are worth the fees we will be paying each academic year. I only hope it doesn't take them too long to do so.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Back in the Saddle

When he was 3, Little A fell off a horse. It was his first time to sit on one, a Shetland pony at a petting zoo not far from home. Big A and I took him to see the animals that summer day, but my son is generally uninterested in those behind bars or glass, preferring ones he can actually interact with, or possibly touch. Part of me wonders if he is against animal cruelty, wanting these creatures to be free.

Since then, he has refused to get back on a pony, preferring to watch them from the sides as they go about their business.

This last trip to the mountains, though, just before summer school started, he wanted Big A to sit him on a horse. We were at a park we always visit to enjoy the fresh air and the scent of pine trees, when Little A spotted a gentle grey horse standing at one side, with his owner, a man of maybe 60 years, standing next to it.

There was a sign that read "Photo on Horseback" and a very reasonable price. Thinking Little A just wanted to touch the horse, like the last time we were in the mountains, Big A picked him up and brought him closer. To our surprise, Little A threw his leg over and sat proudly in the saddle.

He seemed thrilled to be seated on the animal, reaching forward and touching its mane, and then rocking back and forth in the saddle, asking it to move. But this horse had retired from walking the park circuit, and was content to just stand by the tree next to its master.

Naturally, I took photos. Big A stood close by, but Little A was brave, perhaps knowing instinctively that this animal was a very gentle one who had been used to children sitting on its back for years. Luckily, no one else was in the queue for a photo op on horseback, so we took all the time we wanted.

The next day, we took Little A to the place where ponies were for hire, walking a circle or a mountain track. He inspected the horses and sat on one, but wasn't feeling ready to go walking on it yet. So we didn't push it. We know, as with everything else our son does, that he will let us know when  he is ready.